Why Pets Get Carsick and How to Help Them

carsick dog

Does your pet suffer when traveling in the car?

For many pet owners, taking their furry companions on car rides can be a source of joy and adventure. However, for some pets, the experience can be marred by the unpleasant symptoms of motion sickness. Just like humans, dogs and cats can experience nausea, vomiting, drooling, and restlessness when traveling in vehicles. Understanding why pets get carsick and implementing strategies to alleviate discomfort can help make car rides a more enjoyable experience for both pets and their owners.

Understanding Pet Motion Sickness

Pet motion sickness occurs when there is a conflict between the sensory inputs that the brain receives while traveling in a car. The inner ear, which controls balance and spatial orientation, detects motion, while the eyes may perceive a stationary environment inside the vehicle. This sensory mismatch can lead to nausea and discomfort, similar to the motion sickness experienced by humans.

Traveling in a car can be stressful for a pet. The first thing to realize when dealing with your pet’s car sickness is that, in 95% of cases, it is stress-related and not motion-related.

Your pet may relate to a car trip with being taken away from its first home, trips to the vet, or even worse, the kennel. So, it’s not surprising that subsequent rides in a car should evoke very strong mental and subsequent physical trauma.

Although pet owners of these breeds report they are more susceptible to motion sickness, this condition can happen to any pet. Some dog breeds are typically more prone to motion sickness:

Boxer, Border Terrier, Border Collie, Bulldog, Dachshund, Beagle, Pug, Golden Retriever, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Labrador Retriever.

Symptoms of Pet Motion Sickness

The signs of motion sickness in pets can vary from mild to severe and may include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Yawning
  • Whining or vocalizing
  • Panting
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting or dry heaving
  • Inactivity or lethargy

These symptoms may occur before or during car rides and can persist even after the journey has ended. Pets may also display anxiety or reluctance to enter vehicles if they associate car rides with discomfort.

Factors Contributing to Why Pets Get Carsick

Several factors can contribute to the development of motion sickness in pets:

  1. Age and Experience: Puppies and kittens, as well as young animals that haven’t had much exposure to car travel, may be more susceptible to motion sickness. With time and repeated exposure, some pets may outgrow or adapt to car rides.
  2. Anxiety and Stress: Pets that experience anxiety or stress during car rides are more likely to develop motion sickness. Fear of confinement, unfamiliar surroundings, or previous negative experiences can contribute to their discomfort.
  3. Travel Conditions: Factors such as winding roads, sudden stops or accelerations, and strong odors inside the vehicle can exacerbate motion sickness in pets.
  4. Preexisting Health Conditions: Underlying medical conditions, such as inner ear infections or gastrointestinal disorders, can increase a pet’s susceptibility to motion sickness.

Tips for Managing Pet Motion Sickness

While motion sickness can be distressing for both pets and their owners, several strategies can help alleviate discomfort and make car rides more tolerable:

  1. Gradual Desensitization: Gradually acclimate your pet to car travel by starting with short, low-stress trips and gradually increasing the duration and distance over time. Pair each car ride with positive experiences, such as treats, toys, or praise, to create positive associations. Pets are comfortable with structure and associate it strongly with past experiences. Now your pet will associate car travel with fun times.
  2. Reduce Anxiety: Minimize stress and anxiety by making the car environment comfortable and familiar for your pet. Use a secure pet carrier or restraint system to provide a sense of security and prevent excessive movement during the journey.
  3. Provide a Safe Place: Get a carrier or crate and get your pet acclimated to it at home. Put familiar things in it and encourage your pet to use it. Treats are excellent for coaxing a pet into a carrier or crate. Always leave the door to the crate of entrance to the carrier open and let your pet come and go as they please. This will take a while, but your pet needs to understand that their carrier or crate is a comfortable and safe place.
  4. Proper Ventilation: Ensure adequate airflow inside the vehicle by opening windows slightly or using a car ventilation system. Fresh air can help alleviate nausea and reduce the intensity of motion sickness symptoms; however, you don’t want your pet’s head hanging out the window.
  5. Be Up Front with Your Pet: There’s not as much movement in the front of the car as in the back, so it might help your pet if you let him ride in the front seat, but make sure they are in a dog harness or a small carrier or crate that buckles into the seat.
  6. Be Visible: Position your pet’s restraint facing towards the front so they can see you. If your car has dual airbags, then consider using the seat behind the passenger seat. It will comfort them to know you are in the car with them.
  7. Distraction Action: Try having a passenger distract your pet with a toy. A favorite pull toy or old sock may just take your pet’s mind off its surroundings for a while. Certainly, added attention will accomplish this effectively.
  8. Limit Food and Water Intake: Avoid feeding your pet a large meal immediately before car travel, as a full stomach can exacerbate motion sickness. Offer small, light snacks or withhold food for a few hours before the journey. Similarly, limit access to water to prevent excessive drinking, which can lead to vomiting.
  9. Expand Their Horizons: Pets, like people, are less likely to get carsick when they can watch the passing scenery out the window. There are pet car seats that will elevate smaller to medium pets to allow them to look out the window while still being harnessed.
  10. Rest Stops: Take regular breaks during long car trips to allow your pet to stretch their legs, relieve themselves, and reorient themselves to their surroundings. Offer water and reassurance during rest stops to help your pet stay hydrated and comfortable.
  11. Medications and Supplements: Consult your veterinarian about the possibility of using motion sickness medications or supplements to alleviate your pet’s symptoms. Anti-nausea medications, such as dimenhydrinate or meclizine, may be prescribed for pets with severe motion sickness.
  12. Don’t Punish: Always praise your pet for good behavior, and never punish them should they get sick in the car. Just keep working with them, and things should improve. If not, ask your veterinarian whether their discomfort could be an issue with their health. You can also ask your veterinarin about a medication called Cerenia that will help deter vomiting in dogs.
  13. Try a Different Set of Wheels: If other remedies suggested here fail, try a larger vehicle. Sometimes the added stability of a larger vehicle can help. It is certainly worth a try.


Pet motion sickness can pose challenges for pet owners who enjoy traveling with their furry companions. However, by understanding the causes and symptoms of why pets get carsick and implementing strategies to minimize discomfort, it’s possible to make car rides a more pleasant experience for pets. With patience, consistency, and proactive management, pet owners can help their furry friends overcome motion sickness and enjoy safe and stress-free travels together. If motion sickness symptoms persist or worsen despite preventive measures, consult your veterinarian for personalized advice and treatment options tailored to your pet’s needs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *